VOYAGE to Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
02/11/2015 § Leave a comment
At long last.
After staying in Singapore for four years, I can finally say that I have stepped foot in the land of the Malays. It was only one part of an entire trip, but I think I was more excited about the idea that finally got to experience Malaysia for myself, without any trouble.
My requirements to go to Malaysia is to be with a guy (for safety reason), and with someone who can speak and understand Bahasa (for another safety reason). My friend who I planned the trip with is a guy who can understand and speak basic Bahasa, so I felt safe. I have heard telltales about Malaysia being a very dangerous place, and that is the only reason that I have not planned a solo trip to the country. Though I go to various places alone, I do not like to risk my own safety.
The trip itself did not exactly went as planned, but oh well. My Malaysia experience started by waiting for almost an hour for my friend at Woodlands checkpoint. And guess what? There were no benches or anything to sit on there, except the road aisle or the stairs. I deem it unnecessary to share every detail of me being extremely pissed off.
So, going back to holiday mood…I imagine Malaysia to be a seriously dangerous country to travel in, just like Philippines. I’m prepared to witness a bag or phone snatching incident, street brawls, or something of the sort. And I am not sure whether to be happy or not that no crime occurred in front of me. Inwardly, I thought Malaysia wasn’t as dangerous as other people make it out to be. But then again, I was born and grew up in the Philippines, and I was very much used to the ways of going about Manila and the entire National Capital Region (NCR). Being careful was something inborn in us if we want to go about the day harmless. I still find it weird when people tell me to be very careful when travelling to other countries. I appreciate the concern, but maybe, just maybe, I should try asking sarcastically ‘Have you been to Manila?’
I think Malaysia is a better version of the Philippines, from what I have seen during my stay there, which is only a full day.
Travel Period: 4th – 5th July 2015
Accommodation: Le Apple Boutique Hotel
The hotel was located in Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) and was the most affordable one we could find that actually fits our preferences. It was only a few minutes walk to Petronas Towers, our main objective, just outside the mall connected to KLCC train station, and is practically in the heart of KL. The design of the hotel was fun and modern with touches of rustic stuff. I actually like it there. And given the location, S$60 a night comes cheap. Because if you actually do your research, the hotels in the same proximity as Le Apple are all five-stars. The hotel looks new too!
Coming from Singapore, you can get there by bus or by plane. Bus is cheaper but will take you several boring hours. Plane would be faster, but given that you have to be at the airport at least two hours before your flight, and coming from the airport to KL city proper would still take about an hour, you would only save an hour or two, with pretty much big difference on the fares.
Our first stop was Johor Bahru, or most commonly known to locals as JB or Johor. My friend and I have decided to go to JB to visit a college friend of ours who recently got married and is now staying in the city. We only planned for a breakfast with her and her husband, but as our plans got delayed, we never really cared about the timing anymore. The breakfast plan became brunch, and the quick meet up with her became an hour or so of chatting. It was nice catching up with her, and it was a different feeling meeting up with an old friend in a different country. Usually, it would be me meeting with my friends who would visit Singapore. So it was refreshing that I am the one doing the visiting.
I was dying to take pictures with some establishments with the JB-feel but my friends, being all true, flat out told me there was nothing of the sort. True enough, while taking a short drive through the roads of JB, there’s nothing with the JB only feel. The way I see it, the city is a combination of Singapore and Philippines.
After our lunch, which was Bak Kut Teh and I think the place we ate served a really good one. It was very busy when we were there, granted it was Saturday lunch time, we were sent to the terminal where we can take a bus to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. I know it was a long ride, BUT no one ever told me that it was a long, boring five to six hours drive where you see nothing but roads, vehicles and mountains. I still enjoyed the first two hours of it, but got dead bored after that. I could not even sleep! By the time we reach KL, it was just in time for sunset.
JB still feels more like Singapore, since it was the closest neighboring city, only with less security. But the way people go about their lives is very Singapore-like, only with less safety. I firmly noted how every single person I saw with a bag is using a backpack, that is hanging in front of them securely, very much like in the Philippines.
I did mention that it was a long boring five to six hours bus ride to Kuala Lumpur, or KL for short. And I think I was the happiest person on the planet when I finally got off the bus and stepped foot on KL city proper. Sure there was one stop along the way, but that did not make anything better because nothing changed on our route of mountains, trees, roads and endless flow of vehicles.
JB has a lot of Singaporeans for the weekend, so being there did not make me feel like a tourist at all. So having strangers look at me, doing a once-over, while probably thinking that I am a tourist, feels kinda strange. ‘When in Rome, do what Romans do’ is my belief. I wanted to feel like a local when going to a different place, match their pace and just take in their normal way of going about their daily lives. But my friend told me that I just don’t look like a local, nor do I fit to be one. Not with the way I dress – a simple jeans folded on the ankle, dirty sneakers, tank top with a checked red-black collared long sleeves to cover my fatty arms – nor the way I talk, which honestly I have given up a long time ago because I have a funny enunciation. That did not deter me from enjoying the city though. It’s fine if I don’t look like a local, I am a tourist after all.
The problem with that is since I am obviously not from the city or from the country, I may seem like an easy target. So it felt like my guy friend never left my side especially while we were out on the streets, and has been keeping an eye on me. And if we ever come across a group of male youngsters, he would specifically stick closer to me, or hang an arm over my shoulder. In my circle of friends, I was always treated like a baby, so that much did not really bother me. Besides I was pretty used to his antics. My old roommate told me, every since I started my solo travel trips, that I do not look that vulnerable. Well, it’s because I am not.
Kuala Lumpur also looks like a combination of Singapore and Philippines in its streets and architecture. I have been saying how it looks so much like Philippines but doesn’t feel like being in the Philippines. Even my other Filipino friends who have been to KL will say the same thing. While walking around the city, the streets looks very similar to Taft Avenue, just cleaner and more developed. The skyscrapers, however, reminds me of Singapore.
What is there to see and do in KL? At first, I thought there was nothing much, except food and Petronas Towers. But having just an entire night to spend in KL is just not enough for me. I am a tourist and I don’t have every day to go and visit the city. So being there, I just have to see as mush as I can, which is impossible given that we arrived in the city just in time for sunset, and must be on our way first thing the following morning. I must simply go back.
The city is probably known mostly for it’s Petronas Twin Towers. I wasn’t much into sky-scrappers, but Petronas Towers probably did a magic on me. The KL Twin towers at night is such a sight to see. The grandiose architecture standing in all its glory in the middle of the city, with lights perfectly arranged to emphasize its beauty, just struck my photographer self. I cannot seem to stop taking photos of it. I probably have a shot in all the angles possible. I was taking so much photos that my neck hurt. We wanted to go up on the observation deck and see KL from above, but we weren’t lucky. We planned to purchase tour tickets online, but since we do not know what time we will arrive in the city before, we decided against it. It was fine, though we would probably be more mesmerized if we have seen the city lights from a high point.
Petronas Towers was on the top of our list, but I wouldn’t leave out Masjid Jamek out of it either. We probably arrived in KL at a magic hour. We took the train from the bus terminal to reach our hotel in Kuala Lumpur City Center. And while changing lines, we came across a mosque that was so beautiful we had to stop for a minute just to appreciate it. A sunset that was turning to twilight was the back drop of the mosque, which is a splash of lovely colors adding beauty to the already beautiful mosque. I do not know anything of the geography of Kuala Lumpur right then, but later figured out that it was in the station named Masjid Jamek, which in fact is the name of the very mosque. I would have loved to pay another visit in the area but we did not have much time then. Just make sure to check out at least one mosque when you visit KL, this one in particular.
Another ting to do in KL is to eat. I heard that Malaysian food is better than Singapore food, well, it was more authentic at least. So we headed to the street were people specifically go just to eat – Bintang Walk. Apparently it was the entertainment area, with all the restaurants and bars all clustered in that one place. Of course, we decided to go for the hawker center style of dinner at Dragon Nest restaurant. It was the cheaper and the more authentic local flavors. We ordered whatever tickled our fancy, and we ordered a lot, so much that we did not even finish everything on our table. And by the end of our meal, with stomachs full, we only spent a little over S$50. The restaurant was at the corner of the street, and will be definitely hard to miss. The food tend to be salty and oily, but then again it was hawker food quality, so that was a given. It was good though.
After the meal, we walked around the area to see whatever they have to offer. There was a Turkish ice cream stall and I just have to order. The seller was a little playful, and he was with his son, who was equally the same. I had to crush a couple of cones, much to his lost, before he gave up and give me my ice cream. It was good fun, and very entertaining to watch him play with his customers.
We decided to head back to our hotel by walking because everything just seem close if you can see the Petronas Towers every were you went. But we got a little lost on our way back and ended up near the high end hotels in the area of KLCC. We saw the Sky Bar of Traders hotel, which is facing the Petronas Towers and we just had to go up there to see and experience the KLCC view from atop. SkyBar was, well, a simple rooftop bar whose selling point is the fact that you can see the good view of Petronas Twin Towers. There was a pool in the middle of the room, and it was pretty packed with loud music blasting. Since I was in a bar, I just feel the need to order a cocktail drink, and of course, I had their specialty – Selangor Sling.
That was the end of our day, and we headed back to the hotel to catch a couple hours sleep (by that I mean just two hours!), before we head to our next destination – Da Nang, Vietnam.
Budget: I had exchanged S$100 to MYR278 (that was the rate then, other places would give S$1=MYR3) I was told that about S$50 to S$60 would be fine, but I like to be on the safe side. Glad I did, because I have some shenanigans to spend on.
Accommodation – MYR174.36
Fare – MYR35 (bus from JB to KL) + MYR10 (for a couple of train rides for experience’s sake)
Food – MYR155.25 (Dinner) put a little more to your food budget if you want to eat a lot, it will cost you cheap anyway
MYR48 (SkyBar drink)
Note: Besides the fare, the cost for everything else is shared by two people, so I actually only had to spend about MYS250. But then, I had unwritten requirement for my trips, like a Starbucks mug and tumbler for my sister.
Things to note/do/see:
1. Be extremely careful when you are in Malaysia. I did not witness it for myself, but I had heard stories, like a lot of stories, about robbing/snatching incidents directly from my friends. So, just to be on the safe side, and if you want to just have a good holiday without facing much trouble, just be very careful.
2. Like Singapore, Malaysia is another food haven. Be sure to try their local food.
3. Try their train system. It was confusing at first, especially if you did not know which counter to approach for which line if there were more than one line operating in the same station. I was instantly fond of the token used for the train system, which my friend told me was similar to Bangkok’s. Once you understood how the train system works though, you’re good to navigate around the city. And you must understand because it is better to use the train system if you want to go to various places in KL. Most attractions are accessible via the trains.
4. Visit a mosque. Malaysia is mostly a Muslim country, and they have a lot of beautiful mosque to see. Whether you can actually go inside the mosque or not is another matter I have no advise on.
5. Try a city tour bus to get a vague idea of what to see in the city, and then decide on what you want to focus on later on. We did not get to try this, because we arrived late in the city.